Operation: Dessau (Mission #376), Germany
Date: 28th May 1944 (Sunday)
Unit: 457th Bombardment Group (H), 749th Bombardment Squadron (H), 1st Air Division, 8th Air Force
Type: B-17G Black Puff Polly/ Georgia Peach
Serial No: 42-97067
Code: No Sqn codes issued
Location: Mahndorf, south of Osterholz near Bremen, Germany
Base: Glatton (Station #130), Huntingdonshire, England
Pilot: 1st Lt. Rudolph Melvin Stohl O-749350 AAF Age 22. PoW * (1)
Co Pilot: 2nd Lt. David Woodward Schellenger O-678952 AAF Age 24. PoW * (1)
Navigator: 2nd Lt. John Oliver Millham O-691781 AAF Age 22. PoW ** (1)
Bombardier: 2nd Lt. James Earl Thomas O-752961 AAF Age? PoW * (1)
Radio/Op: T/Sgt. Walter Woolsey Wagoner 18090521 AAF Age 20. Killed
Engineer: M/Sgt. Robert Charles Kreite 16026826 AAF Age 21. PoW * (1)
Ball Turret: Sgt. Sheldon John Moore 39555001 AAF Age 19. PoW ***
Left Waist Gunner: S/Sgt. Irwin Arthur Welling 35764609 AAF Age 21. PoW *** (1)
Right Waist Gunner: Sgt. William “Bill” Frank Bemus 18189010 AAF Age 21. PoW ****
Tail Gunner: Sgt. Charles L. Stewart 34354655 AAF Age? PoW ***
Note: The aircraft name of Black Puff Polly was painted on the starboard side (right) and Georgia Peach on the port side (left).
* Stalag Luft 3, Sagan-Silesia, Germany, now Żagań in Poland. (Moved to Nuremberg-Langwasser, Bavaria).
** Unknown PoW Camp.
*** Stalag Luft 4 Groß-Tychow, Pomerania, Prussia now Tychowo, Poland (Moved from Stalag Luft 6 Heydekrug. Moved to Wöbbelin near Ludwigslust and then to Usedom near Swinemünde).
**** Stalag 10c Nienburg Hanover, Prussia now Nienburg/Weser in the state of Niedersachsen.
REASON FOR LOSS:
The 457th Bombardment Group, designated 16 bombers including Black Puff Polly to take off from Glatton commencing at 10:30 hrs to bomb the Junkers Flugzeug- und Motorenwerke AG (Junkers Aircraft and Motor Works facilities) at Dessau, Germany.
The Junkers Motorenwerke or Jumo, manufactured the world’s first production turbojet engine.
Just after reaching the Initial Point (IP) near Magdeburg the formation was attacked by large numbers of German fighters. Black Puff Polly was hit knocking out two engines. The aircraft could not keep up with the formation and dropped back. The bomb load was jettisoned and they turn west and headed for home.
Unable to feather one of the two knocked out engines and to close the bomb bay doors the aircraft gradually lost altitude despite jettisoning the Ball Turret, guns, ammunition and flak suits.
Passing over Bremen they flew through a barrage of flak. The Radio Room received a direct hit from an 88mm shell mortally wounding T/Sgt. Wagoner. Crew members tried to save him but he told them to jump before the aircraft crashed.
The aircraft crashed at Mahndorf, just south of Osterholz near Bremen at 16:04 hrs.
T/Sgt. Wagoner’s body appears to have fallen from the aircraft before it crashed as his body was found some 3 to 5 km from the aircraft crash site. He was identified and buried by 2nd Lt. Schellenger and S/Sgt Stewart.
2nd Lt. Millham suffered a flesh wound to the head from a piece of shrapnel. Sgt. Bemus was hit by a piece of shrapnel in the lower back which exited through his stomach, just before he bailed out.
Sgt. Moore and S/Sgt. Welling were also hit by shrapnel but successfully bailed out with the rest of the crew.
2nd Lt. Millham broke a leg on landing, and together with Sgt. Bemus, were eventually taken to a Hospital in Bremen for treatment.
Sgt. Bemus, after surgery which saved his life, remained in hospital for 4 months. After being sent to another two hospitals he was repatriated through Switzerland to Marseille, France from where he sailed aboard the SS Gripsholm on the 8th February 1945 arriving in New York on the 21st February 1945.
(1) Personal stories by a number of the crew described that they had been assaulted after being captured which was investigated after hostilities had ceased. As a result an Intermediate Military Government Court was convened at Dachau, Germany on the 4th and 5th June 1947.
Three German nationals were charged in that they, did, at or near Bremen, Germany, on or about 28th May 1944, deliberately and wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in committing assaults upon six members of the United States Army, who were then and there surrendered and unarmed PoW in the custody of the then German Reich.
Note: Although six crew members were named in the charge only 1st Lt. Stohl and 1st Lt. Schellenger were named as victims in the Review and Recommendations (R&R) paper.
The three accused were:
Otto Rueger who was a former Gefreiter (Pvt.) in the Wehrmacht and a member of the Nazi party;
Wilhelm Schroeder who was former Hauptwachtmeister (1st Sgt.) in the Police and member of the Nazi party;
August Franz Wilhelm Tidow who was acquitted of any wrong doing.
The court heard that on the 28th May 1944 several American crew members parachuted from their disabled plane near Bremen, Germany. 1st Lt. Stohl landed in Osterholz, some 3¼ km NE of the crash site, and was immediately captured by German civilians and beaten by several of them. One of them was Rueger who struck 1st Lt. Stohl in the head with a hatchet.
According to eye witnesses and admissions made in his first sworn statement he did strike 1st Lt. Stohl with a hatchet. In a second sworn statement and during his testimony to the court he retracted this admission although he did admit that he had threatened the airman with a hatchet.
Another crew member, 1st Lt. Schellenger, landed in the vicinity of Verden some 22 km SE of the crash site, and was captured. He was taken to the scene of the crashed aircraft where he was loaded into the back of a truck with the rest of the crew. Schroeder ordered 1st Lt. Schellenger to get out but as he did not understand the German language he did not obey the command. Schroeder then punched 1st Lt. Schellenger in the face and commanded his dog to bite the airman.
In his sworn statement Schroeder admitted that he slapped the airman but his dog attacked 1st Lt. Schellenger without being commanded.
The court found Rueger guilty of the charges and he was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment, in the War Crimes Prison No. 1, in Landsberg, commencing on the 21st October 1945.
Note: As the charge named six airmen and the R&R paper did not specify his guilt or otherwise regarding the other five named airmen it is assumed his guilt was not limited to the assault on 1st Lt. Stohl.
Schroeder was found guilty of the charge in regard to one airman, presumably, 1st Lt. Schellenger and not guilty regarding the other named airmen. He was sentenced to 2½ years imprisonment in the War Crimes Prison No. 1, in Landsberg, commencing on the 25th September 1945.
The final disposition of their sentences are unknown.
(Credit: The Desert Sun, dated Friday July 14th, 1944)
Above: Grave marker for T/Sgt. Wagoner (Credit: Photo by Find A Grave Contributor Diane & John)
T/Sgt. Walter Woolsey Wagoner. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster), Purple Heart. Initially buried in the Memorial Cemetery, Bremen-Osterholz, Grave K.9. In April 1946, he was reinterred in the Ardennes American Cemetery, Plot C, Row 8, Grave 186. Repatriated on the 16th June 1949 and interred at the Mountain View Cemetery, South Side West, Lot 392, Space 2, Beaumont, Riverside County, California. Born on the 9th October 1923 in Kansas City, Clay County, Missouri. Son of Harry Barcus and Evelyn Isabelle (née Birkland) Wagoner from Beaumont, Riverside County, California. Husband to Frances Elaine (née Buckman) Wagoner from El, Paso, Texas, USA.
Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’.